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Foothills: Pleasurable weekend jaunt to enjoy the changing colors
IoneCa MainStreet1
Downtown Ione is among the many small town attractions awaiting those going for a drive in the foothills of the 209. - photo by Photo Contributed

Heading up either Highway 120 or 88 into the foothills always offers an interesting respite in the towns of Sonora and Columbia to Murphys and Angels Camp and even into Groveland’s Pine Mountain Lake – especially for newcomers to the Central Valley.

It’s always a breath of fresh air to get into the car and head east just for the day or stay for the weekend in one of the old historic hotels with their tales of the past and even a spirit of a long-ago gold miner or stage coach driver on the loose stimulating the imagination.

Taking in a play at the Fallon House in Columbia State Park or at the East Sonora Repertory Theater always makes for a fun afternoon followed by dinner at one of the many restaurants including one operated by the culinary department of the nearby Columbia Junior College.  On Highway 88 the Murphys Hotel dating back to 1856 is also a good choice.

The Winegrape Gourmet is on tap Saturday presented by The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance.  On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, the hotel is hosting a traditional dinner in the hotel dining room always a treat for a couple or for the whole family.  The following Friday a cioppino feed – all you can eat – is on tap with reservations recommended.

While strolling the streets of Murphys during the breakfast hour, don’t overlook the sumptuous menu of omelets and scrambles at the Murphys Hotel with offerings of Meat Lovers’ Scramble to a Western Omelet.

Columbia State Park and its old western Main Street brings memories of the wild west alive by recalling the days when the town was bustling with miners, cowboys and shop keepers.  Next to the Fallon House Theater is one of the best ice cream parlors to be found in the Mother lode. The people of Sonora open their homes and offer extra bedrooms to cast members performing in the many stage plays throughout the year.  And, while in Colombia, the greenhorns of today can try their luck at gold panning.

The Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys has much to offer as well in the heart of the Gold Rush country.  They winery has built a reputation of emphasizing the natural beauty and history of the region.  The wine production facility was created in the style of an 1800s gold stamp mill and displaying gold mining artifacts and antiques.  Ironstone alone will take a couple hours to tour.

Between Angels Camp and Murphys on Red Hill Road at Highway 4 is the Twisted Oak Winery where tourists can bring a blanket in season with low back chairs and enjoy a variety of entertainers that have included the likes of Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg.  They are two of the world’s leading mandolinists – described as pure mandolin heaven.

Bushwalla, a singer and song-juggler and the “Original Gangster of Cleveland” recently returned for an encore performance closing out the Folk at the Oak concert series. For more information on their concerts go to

Also in Murphys there is a new 18-hole Disc Golf Course at Feeney Park.  Thousands of courses dot the U.S. with the growing sport.  With the approval of the school district, the course has been located at Michelson School – a new place for adults and children alike to play.

The object of Disc Golf is to play through the course with as few throws as possible.  For a greater understanding of the sport, check out the Professional Disc Golf Association’s website at  It’s a relatively easy sport to learn, the equipment is inexpensive and the course is free while it is a totally social challenge.  Each disc ranges in price from $10 to $15 and are engineered to travel on a straight path or curving when they are thrown toward the hole.

Entrance to the park course is behind the school on Pennsylvania Gulch Road with plenty of room for parking.

At Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland tourists can find that the Canadian Geese have returned to the beaches following the summer months.  The local residents are continuing to attempt to dissuade the birds from making their home near their lake.

The nearby gun and archery ranges’ hours are dependent on weather conditions and safety concerns.  The archery range is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.  The hours at the gun range are on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 to 4.  Hours are subject to change but may be confirmed by calling the main gate at (209) 962-8615.

For those heading up the hill on Thanksgiving Day, the head chef of “The Grill” at Pine Mountain Lake is offering a traditional Thanksgiving buffet with all the trimmings from rich giblet gravy to candied yams and pumpkin pie.  Of interest to many tourists, the dinner can also be ordered to go in total or just the sides packaged to go right into the oven.  All dishes will be made on site and ready to pick up on Wednesday, Nov. 21

209 staff reporter